There was an omission in HG’s account of cross country American dining. Had a fabulous meal at Hellenic Kouzina in Mechanicsburg, Pa. This is a Greek restaurant and it shouldn’t be missed by any traveler. You walk in, order at the counter, pay the bill. The food arrives in a flash. And…Wow!! Succulent grilled octopus, The most tender and juicy HG has ever encountered. Wonderful spinach pie, Feta and olives. Lamb kebab (served pink as HG suggested). Baba ganoush. Flaming cheese. Warm pita dusted with zaatar. The Greek classics done right. The place is BYOB so HG/BSK were very happy with a bottle of pinot noir picked up at a New Hampshire bargain wine and liquor mart. While staying in Collinsville, Ill. (on the St. Louis/Missouri border), HG/BSK supped on great dry rubbed ribs at Bandana’s BBQ (a good chain with many locations in Mizzou). Splendid cole slaw and fried okra (tasty when dipped in the chain’s hot sauce). The fried corn and baked beans sides were losers. On last day of travel made a repeat visit to Tyler’s Barbecue in Amarillo, Texas. Have raved about this place before. Second visit proved the pit master hasn’t lost his touch. The best brisket ever. The gold standard in smoked meat. Better than New York pastrami. Better than Montreal smoked meat. Heaven on a bun. Amarillo rules!!
The political and racial atmosphere in this country is pure poison. Der Trumper is no longer a bad joke. He could spell the end of the American democracy. Gloomy thoughts as HG/BSK motor across America to New Mexico (a haven of civilization). The only consolation is that America’s road food is surprisingly good. In Augusta, Maine, HG/BSK had a dinner of superior Spinney oysters (big and briny) followed by a good “Oriental” salad of grilled chicken, greens and rice noodles in a peanut sauce. Spent some time in Riverside, R.I. with brilliant and beautiful granddaughter Arianna R. (and her personable companion, Jake, an embryonic chef). Celebrated Ms. Arianna’s birthday and professional triumph with a festive dinner at Chonquing, an unassuming little Chinese restaurant in Seekonk, Mass. Easy to miss in a dreary little strip mall, Chonquing (in HG’s opinion), may be the best Szechuan restaurant in North America. Among other outstanding dishes, HG relished a pot of juicy filets of Mahi Mahi and silky tofu in a bright red chili infused broth. In Dublin, Ohio HG/BSK supped on first rate Indian food at Amul India. Outstanding Chicken tikka, eggplant, dal and tandoori breads. HG/BSK lunch)ed today at a sparkling new Waffle House in Greenfield, Ohio. Pure comfort food for HG: A big bowl of cheese grits topped with two perfectly poached eggs. A nice chicken salad for BSk. (Has it become obvious that BSK loves chicken?) Tonight in Collinsville, Ill. (a few miles east of St.Louis) HG/BSK are looking forward to St. Louis-style dry rub ribs. Report will follow.
Yes, ice cream. Without question and indubitably, it is the best dessert ever created by humankind. HG reflected on this as HG dove into a dessert of Chapman’s (a Canadian company) Maple Walnut. This used to be a ubiquitous ice cream flavor but is now rarely encountered. Better than the easily available butter pecan. When on Prince Edward Island, HG usually enjoys ADL French Vanilla with a splash of local maple syrup. HG’s son-in-law, the distinguished Profesore Massimo R., gifted HG with a jar of Italian pistachio cream. A small topping of this ethereal substance transports vanilla ice cream to a higher realm. During the early days of HG’s marriage to BSK (Some 53 years ago), BSK introduced hubby HG to a midwestern ice cream dessert: The Tin Roof. Vanilla ice cream with a topping of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup and Planter’s Cocktail Peanuts. HG/BSK always indulged in this on summer Sunday nights after returning to Manhattan from sun kissed beach weekends on Fire Island. The combination of creamy, sweet, salty and crunchy was extraordinary. (If you make a Tin Roof be sure to use Planter’s Cocktail Peanuts. Don’t substitute). When at home in New Mexico, HG favors Talenti Gelato (available in a nearby supermarket). Sea Salt Caramel is the best flavor. When in Paris, HG often passes on the pastry desserts in favor of legendary Berthillon ice cream. Very good, but inferior to the sublime ice cream made on the premises at Barney’s, a Rockaway Beach ice cream parlor that flourished in HG’s youth. Was it really that good or is the memory enhanced by HG’s nostalgia?
Wisftul farewell to HG/BSK’s oceanfront paradise on Prince Edward Island’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. As always, it’s been a happy summer enlivened by the presence of Handsome Haru and visits (too short) from other family members. Lots of joyous dining as the winds pick up speed and the leaves begin to turn. Dinner of barbecued lamb and potatoes at Noel and Yossi M.’s Ocean Mist Farm. The delicious lamb was raised by them on an organic diet and received humane treatment. Everything on N. and Y.’s table (tomatoes, peppers, chutney, salsa and the apple crisp dessert) was raised by this remarkable couple. The festive event was echoed two days later by BSK with a meal of buttery mushroom toasts, penne a la amatriciana (from Mario Batali’s Roman recipe). The feast ended with apple pie and a choice of vanilla ice cream (with Sicilian pistachio paste) or maple walnut ice cream. HG/BSK took time off from closing the house chores (admittedly, 98% of the heavy lifting is done by BSK), to dine at two local St. Peters casual landmarks– Rick’s Fish & Chips and Lin’s Takeout. Rick’s steamed local blue mussels (served with a dip of butter,mussel juices and lemon) were sensational–big, plump, juicy, full of sea flavor. Thankfully, last summer’s mussel malaise has ended. Lin’s has the best French fries HG has ever tasted and the generous scallop sandwich is world class. Last PEI meal was at the pretty 21 Breakwater Restaurant in Souris. There are Portuguese touches on the menu (piri piri chicken, Portuguese fish and chips, etc). All tasty. Leave tomorrow for many days of motoring to HG/BSK’s New Mexico home. There will be full reports on HG/BSK’s culinary adventures on the road.
Bad news day. Prince Edward Island’s Guardian newspaper (“Covers the Island Like the Dew”) reported Atlantic Shellfish Products, Inc. has been hit with a recall notice by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The brand’s oysters and quahogs (hard shelled clams) have been recalled due to possible salmonella contamination. Two of the varieties being recalled are Malpeques and South Lakes. They happen to be summer favorites of HG. Briny and flavorful during the summer while Colville Bay oysters have a tendency to be mild and bland during the summer (Colville Bays are HG/BSK’s choice during months with an “R”). The skilled shuckers at the Inn at Bay Fortune solve the problem by smothering the Colville Bays in a fiery Bloody Mary “slush.” These oyster shooters are fine if you’re fond of Bloody Marys (hard to taste the oysters). HG hopes beautiful PEI begins paying more attention to the destructive chemicals being used by some farmers, PEI is branding itself “The Food Island.”. Aggressive environmental law enforcement will be important to maintain and fulfill this brand’s promise.
Some 31 years ago,HG/BSK left New York for a horse ranch in the Rocky Mountain foothills. Then, after almost two decades, moved to a spacious Denver apartment. Now, of course, HG/BSK live in a New Mexico oasis and an oceanfront paradise on Canada’s Prince Edward Island. Lots of serenity, pure air and natural beauty. Peace. Yet, HG sometimes misses the frantic speed of New York. When HG left The Apple for calmer environs, HG noted that everything slowed down. That was obvious when HG began to dine out in the great West: From checkout lines to diners to coffee shops, everything seemed to drag like a leaden balloon punctuated by the cheery (and time consuming) “Have a good one!” that ended seemingly every interaction. On the contrary, going to HG’s New York office, HG would pop into an adjacent coffee shop. “A bialy with a shmear (cream cheese) and a light coffee.” Got it in a flash. Lunch (when in a hurry): “BLT. Whole wheat toast. Mayo. Iced coffee.” Faster than a speeding bullet. Sure, classy restaurants with tablecloths, etc. were properly leisurely. But, in casual eateries you got it fast and got it good. Today, “fast food” means the burger, pizza and taco chains. Crapola. They give speed a bad name.
HG believes it is food snobbism to decry all frozen food. Lots of very good chefs agree with HG that frozen peas are far superior to the fresh peas available in supermarkets (and that includes Whole Foods). HG likes to toss a package into a pot of simmering ravioli or tortellini. (WF carries excellent frozen varieties). Add some grated parmesan and some grinds of black pepper (can also beat an egg into it) and you’ve got true comfort food for a chilly evening. Frozen peas are also good in a risotto or mixed with fettucini, butter, parmesan and prosciutto. WF’s frozen okra are splendid in Bhindi Masala, the lush Indian okra stew. Frozen spinach makes a nice bed for BSK’s pan steamed sole fillets with fried garlic chips. HG always has a bag of WF’s frozen shrimp in the freezer. HG likes the raw, cleaned, shell on variety. They defrost quickly under cold running water. HG dries them and does a quick stir fry in olive oil, sliced garlic and smoked Spanish paprika. Simple and absolutely delicious. They are a staple at Madrid bars. Customers sip sherry, eat the shrimp and spit the shells on the floor. And, that’s why knowing Spanish women don’t wear open toe shoes when bar hopping.
Hey, the land of the free, brave and bigoted is the home of millions of racists, woman haters, war lovers, Il Trumpe worshipers. Yes, it’s got faults. However, there’s some good news. The heartland of the USA used to be a food desert. The chains and “family” restaurants ruled. That has changed. Over the last days, as HG/BSK prepare to leave Prince Edward Island (regretfully) and motor across the country to Santa Fe, HG has been researching restaurants off the major highways the duo (and Toby, The Wonder Dog) will travel. HG has been poring over the choices of Trip Advisor, Yelp and Road Food (Jane and Michael Stern). So far, HG has come up with a Greek restaurant, two Cajun restaurants, a Jewish delicatessen, a seafood restaurant, a Mexcian “fusion” restaurant, a Cuban restaurant and, of course, two barbecue joints. These are lunch or dinner places. For breakfast nothing is better than Waffle House. Be assured. HG will be doing full reports on HG/BSK’s culinary choices.
In a recent post about solitude on the beach in front of HG/BSK’s Prince Edward Island home, HG was guilty (not for the first time) of overstatement. Yes, there are no humans within sight (except for an occasional fishing boat on the horizon) and, thankfully, no autos and their noise and fumes. But, HG is not alone. Toby, The Wonder Dog, is HG’s companion. Toby likes to splash in the sea, race along the bluffs and sniff seaweed, crab shells, etc.. Tiny plover walk the shore, moving swiftly on their skinny legs. Gulls, cormorants and majestic herons are a constant presence. Osprey hover in one spot like helicopters and then dive straight down to snap up their prey. Harrier hawks make an appearance in the afternoon. When HG swims, HG often sees small lobsters scuttling about the bottom. Happily, mosquitoes and flies seem to have abandoned the beach paradise this season.
Arthur Avenue in the Belmont section of The Bronx is New York’s best venue for Italian food. Besides the big market, there are many adjoining shops: Bakeries, butchers, fish merchants, etc. Discerning SJ often visits to pick up wonderful food for his family. Doesn’t seem to mind the drive from his Brooklyn home. Besides retailers, Arthur Avenue has a number of good restaurants and pizza joints. One of HG’s favorite restaurant is unchanging, eccentric Dominick’s. No menus. No checks. Cash only. No reservations. You eat at long, communal tables in a room devoid of anything that could be termed decor. The waiter asks you:”What do you want to eat?” HG usually responds: “Clams to start” ( delicious platter of Clams Oreganatta is provided). HG has often followed with an oil and garlic spaghetti (to be shared) and a main dish of pork chops or chicken scarpariello (both accompanied by vinegar peppers and hot cherry peppers. The food is hearty, flavorful, authentic. The portions are huge. The prices are moderate (No checks, as HG has noted. The waiter tells you what is owed). No room for dessert. HG ends the meal with a digestif. Arthur Avenue is usually crowded with New Yorkers from all boroughs, local residents, suburbanites and tourists. Lines at Dominick’s can be long so plan on early dining. In a changing world, Dominick’s remains an unchanging stalwart.